A Cool Minute with John Adamus

This is the first of what might become a new feature here at Stormin’ Da Castle! I email questions to various RPG luminaries and pester them until they respond. (Actually, I ask politely and wait patiently, although that wasn’t a problem here, as I’ve gotten to know my guest today, and he’s one of the quickest responders I’ve ever seen).

John Adamus, the Writer Next Door

John Adamus's Avatar

John is an editor, game designer, and writer: a Renaissance man, you might say. He’s worked for several people in the industry, and he’s an absolute joy to talk to, regardless of the topic. He’s also very tolerant of newbie questions (a fact to which I can attest personally). If you want something more formal, he offers workshops and other services. You can find him on the web at the Writer Next Door, and he’s active on Twitter as @awesome_john.

So John, you wear quite a few hats. You’ve edited (both literary and game editing), written, and done game design. If you had to rank the three from favorite to least favorite, how would you do it?

I’d have to say my favorite is game editing. There’s something about the collaborative creative process that I don’t see duplicated anywhere else. Second, game design, because it’s such an entirely different set of tools that every time I set out to make something I surprise myself with what I discover both in the game and in myself. Lastly, I’d have to say writing, only because I really don’t feel I’ve hit my stride with it and it’s still one arena where I feel anxiety.

How much of an overlap do you see amongst your many hats?

There’s a lot of overlap between editing and game design and writing. Frequently an editorial discussion evolves into a discussion of mechanics and narrative writing and all these skills meld together to produce a total game. It’s not just a simple recipe of thirds: sometimes a game needs more of one skillset than another to help it make progress towards completion.

What irons do you have in the fire right now, and what are you most excited about?

Game-wise I’m really looking forward to the X-Men Event book for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, as well as Metatopia (the game design convention) in November – that weekend is such a turbocharge for me personally and professionally to go full-steam ahead on any project big or small.

As for what I’m working on now, it’s a lot of smaller projects while bigger projects simmer. I’ve got some different hacks of Night’s Black Agents I’m developing (Night’s Black Assassins, an Assassin’s Creed hack; and Victoria’s (Secret) Black Agents, an 1895ish setting).

I’m quite busy outside of gaming (working in theatre and in web series) and I’m curious to see how that will inform my game design and playing in the coming months.

What project have you struggled the most with? What was the nature of the struggle and how did you overcome it?

I think the greatest struggle I had was in my first-ever project, The Paranet Papers for Evil Hat Productions. Admittedly, I was way intimidated by a few factors: I was “new” to the industry, I was working for a company that I’d dreamed of working for, and I was working on a project that is so big and dense in scope and ambition that I was terrified I’d screw it up. My first initial edits were a combination of bravado and fear as I tried to prove myself and prove I could “do the job”, even though it hadn’t yet sunk it that I already got the job and was now being paid to do what I do best – which is help make products better. Once I talked to the authors (Lenny Balsera, Brian Engard in particular) and got some really reassuring structure from editor Amanda Valentine that anxious challenge melted away and I’ve been able to help shape what I’m confident will be an amazing product.

I know that one struggle a lot of people in our industry have is that notion of ‘faking it’, that pernicious lie that we’re not good enough to do this thing that we love. What’s your strategy for exposing that lie to the light of day?

You mean ‘fake it until you make it’? I can’t stand that sentiment, because it’s just so easy to start getting involved in the industry. Now there’s a difference between getting started and being a super success, which I think is a distinction a lot of people need to make – only in rare cases are you going to wake up one morning and be the celebrated overnight sales machine, but you do a lot without being in the rarefied stratum of “big names” in the industry, just by being proactive: ask questions, make an effort to attend conventions and try your hand at designing your own material for your friends, and asking for help from people who can help you (editors, other writers, etc), so that you can be better educated. Education and information are so accessible in this industry there’s no reason to “fake” anything. It’s just a matter of asking questions, be willing to make mistakes on the road to getting better at whatever you want to do and trying again and again in the face of doubt.

Time to introduce us to cool new stuff. Who’s on your radar that needs to be on everyone else’s radar?

There’s a lot on my radar that I would love to talk about, but I just can’t. I can say this – I think Fate Core is going to be a very big and successful deal.

Now for the hard question: Donuts or bagels? If it’s donuts, do you dunk them? If it’s bagels, how do you take them?

Can I say both? When I ate donuts, I never dunked them. When I ate bagels, it was a plain bagel toasted with a little butter.

In closing, what’s one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

Hmm. I think people would be surprised to know that I for as busy as I am, there’s a LOT of downtime, even with all these projects going on – a lot of hurry up and wait and a lot of time between deadlines. And in that downtime, I’m accessible. Finding me online (on twitter, on gchat) isn’t hard, and I’m always happy to answer questions or help people with game-related designs.

I lied. One last question: how would you rate this interview (using whatever criteria you wish)?

I think this has been a pretty good interview. I like interviews.